Governor signs Wilcox bill to help reduce agricultural worker suicides

A bill sponsored by Rep. J.T. Wilcox aimed at reducing the suicide rate among workers in the agricultural industry was signed into law by the governor Thursday.

Under House Bill 2671, the State Office of Rural Health will be required to convene a task force on behavioral health and suicide prevention in the industry. The 16-member task force, comprised of mental health experts, staff from key state agencies, and representatives from a number of commissions, associations and other entities, will then issue a report by Dec. 1 on the following:

  • Data related to the behavioral health status of people in the agricultural industry;
  • Factors affecting the behavioral health and suicide rates of people in the agricultural industry;
  • Components for inclusion in a behavioral health and suicide prevention pilot program; and
  • Opportunities to improve the behavioral health status of agricultural workers and their families, and reduce the risk of suicide.

Based on the recommendations of the task force, the state Department of Health will then establish a pilot program in a county west of the Cascade Crest that is reliant on the agricultural industry. The pilot program will provide free counseling and suicide prevention resources, which will be available online or by phone in both English and Spanish.

Wilcox says he introduced House Bill 2671 after learning the suicide rate among workers in farming, fishing and forestry is five times greater than that of the general population of the United States.

“Without the reporting of The Guardian’s Debbie Weingarten, I and so many others would have remained in the dark about this public health crisis,” said Wilcox, R-Yelm. “As a lifelong farmer, I’ve experienced the ups and downs that come with good seasons and bad seasons, but I had no idea so many of my fellow colleagues in the agricultural industry were struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. I drafted this bill so they would know they’re not alone and don’t have to fight this battle by themselves. We are going to do whatever it takes to end this crisis and get these individuals the help they need. House Bill 2671 is a good first step, but there is a lot more we’ll be doing going forward.”

House Bill 2671 was unanimously approved in the House and Senate. It will go into effect later this year.

The 2018 legislative session adjourned March 8.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov